Urban Politics #279: Urban Forest Commission


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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CONTENTS:

  • Members Sought For Urban Forest Commission
  • Urban Forest Legislation
  • Urban Forest Benefits
  • Urban Forestry Commission
  • Members Sought

MEMBERS SOUGHT FOR URBAN FOREST COMMISSION

The City is currently seeking members to serve on the Urban Forestry Commission. Background on the urban forest, related legislation and a description of the duties and membership positions of the Urban Forestry Commission are included below. Information on how to apply is provided at the end of this newsletter.

URBAN FOREST LEGISLATION

Earlier this month the City Council unanimously passed two measures designed to improve the City’s management of trees and the urban forest canopy: Resolution 31138 sponsored by Richard Conlin to revise city regulations and establish incentives to preserve and plant trees, and Ordinance 116577 that I sponsored to create an Urban Forestry Commission to provide outside expertise to assist the city in protecting and expanding our tree canopy while accommodating growth.

URBAN FOREST BENEFITS

Seattle’s urban forest provides numerous benefits, including air pollution reduction, carbon storage, stormwater absorption, energy savings, and aesthetic benefits, to say nothing of the shade trees provide during the 90 degree days we’ve seen so much of recently. A 2007 Portland study estimated that Portland’s urban forest stores about 1.5 billion pound of carbon, and produces nearly $40 million in annual carbon storage, air cleaning, and stormwater processing benefits. The study further estimated that increasing their urban forest canopy by 7% could result in an additional ½ million pounds of carbon storage.

During the last 40 years Seattle’s urban tree canopy has seen a 50% reduction. Estimates place the city’s current tree canopy at 18-22%; the City’s goal is to attain at least 30% over the next few decades.

The key dilemma we face moving forward is how to expand our tree canopy while increasing residential density as foreseen in the Seattle Comprehensive Plan. The resolution calls for the Department of Planning and Development to develop regulations and incentives to meet this challenge. Incentives could include, for example, allowing additional development on a site if trees are preserved.

The Urban Forestry Commission will assist the City by providing outside expertise consisting of scientists, tree advocates, and developer representatives to ensure that whatever comes forward is environmentally sound as well as practical.

The City Auditor issued a report in 2009 calling for actions to improve the City’s stewardship of trees, including new tree regulations, conducting a tree inventory, better coordination with stakeholders and public outreach. The two measures address these recommendations.

URBAN FORESTRY COMMISSION

Below is a list of the membership or the Urban Forestry Commission, and the duties and functions.

The Urban Forestry Commission will consist of nine members: a wildlife biologist, an urban ecologist, a representative of a local, state, or federal natural resource agency or an accredited university, a hydrologist, an arborist, a landscape architect, representative of a non-profit or NGO whose mission is to advocate for the urban forest, a representative of the development community, and an economist or real estate broker, preferably with expertise in land use or environmental planning. Four members will be appointed by the Council, four by the Mayor, and one by the members.

The Urban Forestry Commission has the following duties:

  • provide recommendations regarding City plans, major or significant policy recommendations, and any City department’s recommendations related to urban forestry, arboriculture, and horticulture;
  • consider recommendations for items included in Resolution 31138, including incentives for developers to preserve existing trees and/or plant new trees;
  • provide recommendations on any Urban Forest Management Plan, or similar document designed to provide policy direction on preserving and protecting the City’s urban forest habitat;
  • provide recommendations on legislation concerning urban forest management, sustainability and protection of trees on public or private property;
  • review and comment on any proposal to inventory trees within the City of Seattle;
  • monitor implementation of City plans and policies related to the urban forest, and provide review and comment to the Mayor and City Council;
  • educate the public on urban forestry issues;
  • review programs for identifying and maintaining trees with significant historical, cultural, environmental, educational, ecological or aesthetic value; and
  • comment on the proposed Office of Sustainability and Environment work program, and any work by any City interdepartmental advisory body relating to the Urban Forest.

MEMBERS SOUGHT

The Council and Mayor are currently seeking members to serve on the Urban Forestry Commission.  Meetings will be held monthly, with an estimated ten hour commitment per month to Commission work. Interested applicants must be Seattle residents.

If you are interested in serving, please send a letter of interest and resume by September 18 to tracy.morgenstern@seattle.gov, or by postal mail to:

Tracy Morgenstern
Coordinator, Urban Forestry Commission
Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment
PO Box 94729
Seattle, WA 98124-4649

Keep in touch…

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